By Jan Zalasiewicz

About Jan Zalasiewicz

Jan Zalasiewicz is a field geologist, stratigrapher, and palaeontologist formerly with the British Geological Survey and now at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. His research covers geological processes and environmental change from the Precambrian to the present day, with particular interests in the early Palaeozoic and the late Cenozoic, and in present-day and future geological change. He currently chairs the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. He has written the books The Earth after Us (2008), The Planet in a Pebble (2010), and, with Mark Williams, The Goldilocks Planet (2012) and Ocean Worlds (2014).

Anthropocene

The world today is undergoing rapid environmental change, driven by human population growth and economic development. This change encompasses such diverse phenomena as the clearing of rainforests for agriculture, the eutrophication of lakes and shallow seas by fertilizer run-off, depletion of fish stocks, acid rain, and global warming. These changes are cause for concern—or alarm—among some, and are regrettable if unavoidable side effects of economic growth for others.

How significant are these changes in total? How might they evolve, and what might their ultimate consequences be? One way of studying these changes is to consider them as the latest phase of the many environmental changes that have affected the Earth since its origin, a little over four and a half billion years ago. Humans may be considered as geological agents, and anthropogenic environmental change may be compared with events in Earth’s deep history.

Such analysis dates, perhaps surprisingly, from the …

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